According to Feeding America, in Virginia, 799,620 people are facing hunger and 9.4 percent of the people in Virginia face food insecurity. Of those, 214,270 are children. In 2019, Voices for Virginia’s Children reported 11.5 percent children in Virginia were food insecure.
Food insecurity does not necessarily hold the same definition as hunger or starvation. Hunger is a condition that may result from food insecurity. It is the prolonged involuntary lack of food that goes beyond the usual “uneasy” sensation. It results in discomfort, illness, weakness, pain, or malnutrition.
There are different forms of food security and food insecurity. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced language to name the ranges in conditions:
In Feeding America’s Map, the Meal Gap study assessed that the average cost of a meal in Virginia is $3.17 cents. The annual budget shortfall that individuals who experience food insecurity reported needing, on average, was $433,605,000 to minimally meet their needs.
Generating food security means ensuring all people have access to enough food to live an active and healthy lifestyle. Some states, including Virginia, have increased access to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. This involved increasing SNAP thresholds to 200 percent of the poverty level, including in Virginia, to ensure more people are eligible.
Voices for Virginia’s Children co-leads the Virginia Food Access Coalition with the American Heart Association – Virginia. To move the state forward, Virginia must:
COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity rate. Numerous studies have demonstrated correlations between food insecurity and poor health outcomes, such as higher level of chronic disease, hypertension, asthma, stroke, and cancer. The Produce Rx program will provide fresh, locally grown produce alongside healthcare and nutrition counseling to empower patients to overcome barriers to the consumption of fruits and vegetables. The program will allow medical professionals in Virginia to prescribe fresh fruit and vegetables to patients experiencing diet-related chronic illnesses. Over 500,000 Virginians eligible for SNAP, TANF, and Medicaid that may have specific dietary needs could be eligible for the Produce RX Program.
Virginia Fresh Match is a statewide initiative that started at the community-level to directly support Virginia’s agriculture and further increase access to fresh and nutritious foods for consumers who are low-income. Every dollar of SNAP and incentives goes from the customer’s hand into a farmer’s pocket. VFM doubles the purchasing power of residents who are food insecure to increase revenue for farmers through redemption of federal nutrition benefit at markets and community-based retailers. With state support, VFM can reach more customers and grow the number of participating outlets, including supporting incentives for the Virginia Food Access Investment fund grantees.
COVID-19 has increased Virginia’s food insecurity. It has further highlighted the urgent need to invest funds in Virginia’s food supply chain. Under resourced farmers and food distributors are facing high demands from Virginia’s Food banks. The Virginia Food Access Investment Fund invests in healthy food projects and businesses by providing funding to support construction, rehabilitation, equipment, upgrades, grocery store expansion, amongst other food and nutrition providers.